My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business; great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people. – Steve Jobs
I often get notes from people asking how I put together such a talented team – usually following an event or program we’ve led. It’s always a flattering question and I’d love to take credit for our team’s success, but it wouldn’t be right. The success we have largely goes back to the talent and work ethic of each individual, but more importantly the way in which they work together. The role I have played, and that all leaders can play, is establishing measures and practices to hire the right blend of people.
When building a great team, diversity is hugely important. There are usually two camps of people – those that love talking about diversity and those that are tired of hearing about it. When I say diversity, I don’t just mean the obvious things like race, gender, age or sexual orientation – diversity is much bigger than that, although those things matter too.
At Southwest Michigan First, our team members represent diversity in ages ranging from 25 to 55. We are a predominantly female driven organization in an industry that is typically dominated by men. We are represented by many ethnicities including Asian, African American, Hispanic, Native American and Caucasian. And it didn’t happen by accident.
When hiring for an open position, we always interview at least three candidates. We’ve made a commitment that one candidate must represent a diversity candidate, meaning they bring a unique element to the table differing from the other candidates.
If you’ve heard of the Rooney Rule, you know that the National Football League (NFL) gets the importance of this. Established in 2003, it requires a team that is hiring for head coaching positions to have at least one diversity candidate in the mix. The NFL is usually looking to hire a coach based on previous experience, where in our case we are looking at future potential, but the concept is the same. To have a great team, you must constantly be analyzing the make-up of a team to see where the gaps are – that’s what diversity is really all about.
When we hire, we hire based on talent. Gallup has identified 34 areas of strengths that we measure and we make sure to hire people who are hardwired to be successful at specific things. But, that doesn’t mean every leader on the team is identical in their strengths, their background or their capacity. We purposefully seek out team members who will bring something new to the table. Some may be surprised that most of us are not economic developers by trade. Instead, our team members previously served as fitness instructors, stay-at-home moms, legislative staffers, educators and even an interior designer. Our educational backgrounds vary as much as our previous work experience.
Why does any of this matter? Every generation of leaders talks about how the world is getting more connected and complicated. They are absolutely correct. Immediate access to information means that it is much harder to be a leader in an industry sector, because everyone has the same knowledge. The stress and requirements to achieve success are much higher. Today’s leaders and members of teams have to be much more gifted than they had to be in the past just to meet average standards. If you want to be great, you have to ensure that people are going to solve problems from multiple different perspectives.
On a daily basis, we are working with startup companies, small businesses, large businesses, existing companies, international companies, other economic development groups, governmental groups – you name it. We have to have talented individuals who understand the needs of our varied customers and can translate that into the services we execute to meet those needs.
At Southwest Michigan First, our ultimate belief is that the greatest force for change is a job. If we want to meet our mission we have to have amazingly talented, gifted leaders who bring multiple perspectives, experiences and solutions to a problem to best meet the needs of our customers. By hiring a diverse range of team members, we believe we can best serve our mission and our diverse community. I would venture to say, the same is probably true for your organization.
Question: How highly do you value diversity in your organization?